Over the past eight months, I have been privy to some really interesting experiences and observations as a teacher. I sometimes feel like an anthropologist, curiously watching their behaviors and comparing them with my own and those of others in my life.
After observing some patterns of behavior over the past school year, my mind automatically begins to analyze what I see. Here are some observations: When someone pushes them, they push back. "Your mom" comments are used (but usually saved for the most extreme situations). They blatantly seek for their own name to be known and themselves to be seen as great, or at least greater than someone else around them. In fact, almost all of the problems I see in the classroom are centered around them wanting to be seen as "the best."
Here is one scenario that displays this idea perfectly:
Driving to the beach on a field trip, we pass a kid skateboarding. One of my students yells out, "That's right, cause you can't skateboard anyway!" to the kid. I often correct these behaviors, but I was too distracted by thinking of how similar we all are at our very core. I said something like, "That is really interesting to me that you don't even know him, and yet you still want to be better than him. I think we all do that in different ways. That is just so interesting. You should try to think of why you feel that way."
As grown-ups, somewhere along the way, we learn to disguise these in socially acceptable ways. This tendency to want attention and be the best doesn't just go away when we mature, it just expresses itself differently. As we grow up, we do mature, (thankfully millions of adults aren't running around shoving people and saying Your Mom), but even so, our hearts are still as wicked as they once were when we were younger. We have simply learned how to hide what was once so obvious. We mask our selfishness behind false kindness and other ways of disguising slander and pride. If we are angry with someone, we will smile and be kind yet still keep bitter hatred in our hearts. I don't know many (if any) adults that would come right out and say, "I'm better than you." Kids actually would. We will often form it as a gossipy story or even, disgustingly enough, a prayer request that is in actuality motivated by our desire to be seen as better than another.
Knowing this is true because of Scripture and then seeing it played out in the lives of 30 random students from all over the world (Sudan, Mexico, Nigeria, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, United Arab Emirates, and the USA) stuck together in a classroom has been particularly fascinating. "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick? Who can understand it?" This is not specific to race, gender, or age. Only Christ can change these hearts. This change cannot simply come with age. How humbling to see that I am so similar to my little 5th grade punks (a term of endearment), and that I can learn so much from my students. It does me no good to hide my own sinfulness, or try to disguise it in a "socially acceptable" form.
As Derek Webb puts it:
for the way I believe that I'm living right
by trading sins for others that are easier to hide
I am wrong and of these things I repent
I pray that as my students grow up, instead of learning new ways to mask their sins, they will one day learn to confess their sins for what they are and run to Jesus for hope.